A Blogger’s Must Have Tool for the 2016 Cybils

So last year, I kicked off Cybils blogging with some zombies. Not sure how to top the undead and stay apolitical, but I’ll do my blogger best and start with a question:

Do you know where your library card is?*

call for blogger judgesI hope so! It is a must-have for Cybils judges and any blogger who loves to read along when the nominations start rolling in beginning October 1.

Oh, you’ve never been a judge in the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards? Then this is your year! We are looking for bloggers with new voices. Just. Like. Yours.  If you contribute regularly to a blog, podcast, or vlog about any aspect of children’s or young adult literature, then consider yourself invited to apply. The very simple application is right here.

If you’ve been on a Cybils hiatus, have we got news for you! We have some shiny new categories … and what blogger among us doesn’t like shiny new things? Check out our two new trial categories:

  • Board Books – its own part of the Fiction Picture Books category, chaired by yours truly.

With the growth of youth nonfiction, the Cybils is now expanding the existing nonfiction categories into two awards each.

  • Elementary Nonfiction will select a picture book winner, as well as an easy reader winner, under the tutelage of Jennifer Wharton, librarian and blogger at Jean Little Library.
  • YA Nonfiction will select winners for both middle grade and YA. Jennie Rothschild, who blogs at Biblio File, will be at the helm.

You can read more about all of this exciting stuff on the Cybils blog [and keep up to date by signing up for the newsletter!]

So in closing, fellow blogger …

If you write about your love of children’s and young adult literature, have a passion for nonfiction or audiobooks (or middle grade fiction, or poetry, or picture books, or easy readers), or is one of the bloggers who encouraged us to consider board books, then come be part of something awesome.

You’ll be glad you did!

** September is almost here and its Library Card Sign-up Month, so if you don’t have a library card, well, you still have time to get one and test it out before nominations start on October 1.

Back to School – Back in the Groove

As y’all know, I stepped away from the blog this summer to focus on other stuff. Summer isn’t over, but it’s time to get back in that transition groove.

girl first day school It’s just so … good to be back! School itself is in my rear view mirror, but I still love everything that comes with the start of a new year … especially the discovery of new things. So it is very fortuitous (and a lot of fun) to share what I learned in my interview with Peter Trimarco and Brenda Faatz.

The husband and wife team have been writing for youth theatre productions for many years. They recently launched their debut picture book, It’s Just So… and introduced the adorable Lizzy to the world.

We have a two-part interview. In the Q&A below, I talk with Brenda and Peter about their new book and ways to read it with children. On the Reading Tub, Brenda and Peter explain how they weren’t readers as children, but what (or who!) ultimately helped them discover a love of books.

Please welcome Brenda and Peter to the Family Bookshelf.

picture book authorRT: Congratulations on the journey of becoming a children’s author and illustrator! It has been fun to live vicariously through the joy that bounces off my screen in your emails.

Peter: Thanks, Terry. We are having so much fun. As I think I mentioned, at a recent event at Barnes & Noble, we had everyone – including parents – dancing to the “Wallaroo Wiggle,” an original song Brenda created for the book.

RT: I can see why! Everything about It’s Just So… has a lyricism to it. You both have incredible careers in the performing arts. When you decided to write a children’s book did you find it easier or harder to create a “script” for a print audience?

Brenda: It’s been a blast expanding our writing from live performance scripts and song writing for print. The big differences we’ve found are that we need to be more concise than when writing scripts and more literal than when writing songs.

We’ve gone over every word, every sentence and every illustration more times than we can count because we feel every detail of this book is important to the whole.

RT: lizzy back to schoolIn fact, Lizzy first came to life in one of your plays. Can you tell us, Peter, a little bit about how Lizzy appeared in your illustrator eye?

Peter: We wrote a musical theatre production called Wee Noteables, and Lizzy is drawn from a character named “Pockets,” portrayed by Brenda. That character has a little Carol Burnett meets Harpo Marx in her DNA.

As we dove deeper into writing the book, I was trying to illustrate a character who was true to Brenda’s “Pockets” character, but also one that had a distinctive look, and a silhouette that you just know can only be Lizzy. As important, we wanted our main character to be accessible and appealing to both boys and girls.

RT: It’s interesting that you describe the story and character as part of a broader “concept.” Can you elaborate on that for our readers?

Brenda: We have journals full of thoughts, ideas and notes that preceded publishing It’s Just So… — and hopefully many future Lizzy books.

The original idea of It’s Just So… was to present situations children could relate to and where their perceptions would be challenged to consider new perspectives.

Our phrase “It’s just sooooooo……” is inspired by what we so often hear our children say, sometimes out of frustration ~ sometimes of glee.

RT: In It’s Just So… Lizzy is preparing for her first day at a new school. Although many reviews have focused on the back-to-school element [see: Children’s Book Review], it seems like there is “more to the story.” What other concepts would you like readers to take from the story?

Peter: It is actually a story about perspective and the feelings children and adults experience when facing any changes to their routine or living outside their perceived comfort zone. The back to school theme proved to be a great backdrop for opportunities to draw out emotions that every child can relate to.

Similar experiences could be moving, trying a new sport, or even connecting with a different group of friends. Things are not always what we expect and making assumptions can be so limiting.

What Lizzy helps us see is that once we embrace new challenges and stare down our fears, things might be just so “fantastical.”

RT: girls science characters‘Tis the season for back-to-school jitters, from first day of preschool to new school/new friends! How would you suggest that parents introduce Lizzy and It’s Just So… to their children?

Brenda: There are many different ways to introduce our book to a child. Much of that is dependent on the child’s developmental level. But not all of it. Parents have purchased our book for graduating seniors as a means of encouragement.

For our youngest readers (the kids who prefer listening to books), we recommend doing a “picture walk.” Look at each page, ask questions about what your child sees, and read mainly the more colorful words in larger fonts. Allow the kids to really devour all the delicious detail in the illustrations. They will glean everything they need using just these things.

For older children, the rhymes and made-up words will challenge their imagination and enrich their experience.

Regardless of their age, it is great to share the book together the first time you read It’s Just So… because there WILL be questions about some of those crazy words, and hopefully some giggles to share!

RT: Rhyme is just one way your story plays with words. The pages incorporate color, size, and even create new words to engage readers. What (or who) was the inspiration for some of the new words?

Peter: The idea of introducing “made-up” words came from our experience working with the kids at our children’s enrichment center. We made up a few of the words in the beginning. I believe the first one was Fizz-astro-fantastical on the science page. Then Brenda took an early draft of the book to a class of four- to five-year olds and read it aloud.

Initially, the younger ones “got” more of it with a picture walk while the older kids grabbed onto the lyricism of the rhyming story. When a few made-up words were dropped in, it quickly became a game of all the children parsing out the real adjectives from the made-up ones. Soon everyone was experimenting with creating adjectives and adverbs.

Needless to say, we went back to the manuscript and focused on making the fun vocabulary a solid thread throughout the book. Now we’re seeing the rewards of that work. Educators and librarians thank us because the book helps them with lessons about “describing words.”

RT: Does this mean that you envision original vocabulary being part of every story?

: But of course. These words are abso-linguistically essential-istic to ensure the funtastic-ness of all Lizzy books!


Read more about Lizzy’s first day of school, fun words, and

how Peter and Brenda became readers in our interview at the Reading Tub!



Copyright Notable Kids Publishing. All rights reserved. Use with permission.

Books & Beyond: Going back to our literacy roots

What would you think if you saw this headline:

Where are the books about kids like us?

Would you think We Need Diverse Books? I did. Then I read the article, a feature on the KidsPost page commemorating Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.

That question was posed to her in the late 1940s; and it led to the birth of Henry Huggins in 1950. I’m sure many of you know the story. Cleary was a librarian at the time, and a young boy “who wasn’t impressed with the books on the shelves” wanted to know where he’d find a book about a boy like him.

The first thing that struck me is that boys DO want to read. They want to see themselves. The other thing that struck me is the timelessness of readers want to know *they* are in a book.

As I was still thinking about those two things, I spotted another headline. This one at the top of the Washington Post Sports section: ‘I didn’t see many players who looked like me.’ It is a story about Willie O’Ree, the first black player to skate in the National Hockey League (NHL). O’Ree is working to make sure that “children of all colors have opportunities to learn and excel at the sport.” Since 1998, when the NHL launched its Hockey is for Everyone initiative, 45,000 boys and girls have been introduced to the sport. Cool, huh?

It’s been a couple weeks since those articles came out, but my thoughts keep going back to them.

  • All of us want the comfort / confidence / sense of belonging that comes when you connect with others in our community. Whether it is the characters in a book, the kids on your hockey team, and many other corners of our lives. This isn’t a “phenomenon” it is a timeless feeling that resides within our hearts.
  • “Be the change you want to see.” O’Ree was making a difference in hockey well before 1998 when the NHL created a program to bring his work to a national level.

So why am I getting all philosophical? Because I’ve grown weary.  I feel as though we, as folks passionate about literacy are going in circles. We share ideas and recommendations among ourselves, but not breaking through to get the message where its needed most. It also seems as though there has to be a “cause” or a hashtag or other rallying cry to *think* about taking action. Last, it seems that the acrimony of the presidential race seems is spilling over into other areas, and meaningful discussions where people listen and/or can agree-to-disagree are hard to come by.

Put all that together, and being passionate about literacy isn’t as much fun as it used to be. For me.

So for the time being, I’m going to step away from blogging and go out into the real world.

Rather than write about literacy, I am going to volunteer and work with kids who need literacy help. The summer slide is coming and there are kids who can use the extra help this summer.

Rather than support a rallying cry or talk/argue about what is wrong with and/or missing in publishing, I’m going to seek out the books that are already here and rely on you to tell me about new ones. I will read as widely as possible so I can help readers find books where they will see themselves.

I will still be running the Reading Tub and building the FLIP app, and I’ll continue to write The Wash Rage, our newly revamped newsletter.  I’ll still be active on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, sharing great ideas and book reviews wherever I find them.  Where this blogging hiatus takes me, I don’t know … and that’s Okay.